Costumer and cabaret artist collaborate on seven interactive costumes for Fringe-A-Thon

Costumer and cabaret artist collaborate on seven interactive costumes for Fringe-A-Thon

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 Fringe-A-Thon, FringeArts’s annual 12-hour dance party fundraiser, offers this year’s attendees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to have their cake and eat cake it too — off the costume of a live, dancing man.

The man in question is John Jarboe — founder and out artistic director of Philadelphia’s Bearded Ladies Cabaret, an ensemble of seven theatre actors, who’ve been singing together since 2010. The costume is the Where-able Cupcake Station, one of seven interactive, danceable designs, created specially for Fringe-A-Thon by Jarboe’s costumer and collaborator of eight years, Rebecca Kanach.

Once costumed, Jarboe will debut as “Dance Mom:” a self-entitled drag-queen emcee who, alongside “Dance Dad” and “Dancing With The Stars” co-host Virgil Gadson, will guide attendees through a noon to midnight line-up of DJs, dancers, classes and live concerts. Grooving through the night in outdoor common space “Piazza at Schmidt’s Commons,” dancers participate to raise money for contemporary performance venue FringeArts and the fall annual Fringe Festival.   

For Jarboe, FringeArts is a familiar partner. He’s performed in their productions and workshops since 2009 and this fall he’ll debut a new cabaret on the Fringe Festival stage.

Similarly, Kanach and Jarboe have a working history that has produced substantial credits for both, along with a costume haul that has at times overwhelmed each of their basements.

For Fringe-A-Thon, the seven costumes, still very much in production for the June 16 fundraiser, have been an ongoing collaboration, with Jarboe detailing a vision and Kanach tweaking ideas, constructing —  and repeat. 

Jarboe’s costumes will follow the 12-hour lifespan of the event, each one corresponding with the theme of the hour: for example, 4 p.m.’s “Twist Her Or Dip Her” theme brings Jarboe out to play a game of Twister with the audience, via an actual Twister board Jarboe will don as a cape.

Each costume is a compromise between pomp and practicality.

“I have to negotiate this giant, dragging Twister board behind him —  so I have to figure out how I can make it the most comfortable for him in the moment,” said Kanach. “He needs to be very mobile. Just one unisuit seemed like the best option so he can go off and run around and be the spinner as well.”

There’s also light to consider. The dancing, which will commence under the high-noon sun and carry on beneath the street lights, calls for corresponding costume changes: reflective fabrics and sequins in the sun, and lights at night.

Costumes like the outrageous Donna Summer-inspired Disco Ball, set to debut when the party theme turns into Late Night at 9 p.m., in fact make use of standard-issue lighting.

“I’m super low-key,” said Kanach. “I actually don’t know much about lighting, so it becomes more about what is better operated and mobile for John. Those string lights you can put on your balcony or in your bedroom are great and they can just get sewn into the costume,” she said.

For Jarboe and Kanach the success of each costume will boil down to the audience and how big a kick they get out of each.

“So, the costumes demand community action, basically, and coming together,” said Jarboe.  “So, with Fringe-A-Thon our premise is that we want to make costumes that can be really interacted with: that can be danced on, danced with, touched, because it’s about a community event.”

With just Kanach creating, and a possible a stitcher or two jumping in on the last leg of production, Jarboe won’t know how anything fits until it’s show time. 

“Everything’s in the works and honestly it will be in the works until like a minute before I walk on,” said Jarboe. “Rebecca’s doing a tremendous amount of work on this for these brief moments of hosting and pleasure and engagement and spectacle, and it’s the kind of thing where she’s gas-taping a wing to me right before I step on stage.”

The two seem comfortable with the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. For Jarboe, it’s the zeitgeist of Fringe-A-Thon.

“It’s kind of lovely that the spirit of the event is: What can be created right now? What joy can be put together right now?” 

Fringe-A-Thon will be held from noon-midnight June 16 at The Piazza at Schmidt’s Commons. Tickets are $35 and fundraising spaces are open at

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